Amid the fiscal carnage wrought by Covid-19, it would appear that the gambling zeitgeist is moving, inexorably, pro-industry and towards the billions of pounds it generates for the economy.
The UK government has just announced a change of leadership overseeing the much-anticipated Official Review of the 2005 Gambling Act.
And it signals a major shift in focus, in favour of commerce over constriction, of how to update gambling legislation and make it fit for purpose in our age of digital and iGaming.
Launched on December 8 last year and scheduled to conclude at the end of this month, March, the Review will now be led by John Whittingdale, Conservative MP for Maldon and Minister for Media and Data.
He takes over from Sports Minister Nigel Huddleston.
Whittingdale is perceived by many hard-core anti-gambling campaigners as being too close to the gambling industry and they are worried by his past voting record against tighter betting controls.
“Given the new appointee has a history of being strongly supportive of the industry, I very much hope he will be focused on the evidence and not influenced by aggressive industry lobbying,” urged Labour MP Carolyn Harris, the chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Gambling Related Harm.
The UK Betting and Gaming Council (BGC), however, has welcomed Whittingdale’s appointment.
While paying tribute to the departed Huddleston for “a superb job” in “challenging circumstances”, Michael Dugher, BGC Chief Executive, said:
“John [Whittingdale] commands huge respect and he is a formidable politician who brings a wealth of experience and knowledge.
“From high street betting shops, casinos, online gaming and bingo, The BGC represents the bulk of the regulated sector and we look forward to working with him.”
Gambling makes a massive contribution to the UK economy, paying some £3bn (US$4.17bn/€3.47bn) in taxes and generating an estimated £8.7bn (US$10.06bn/€12.11bn) in GVA (Gross Value Added).
Dugher continued: “This is an uncertain time for many of the more than 100,000 people who work in the industry as we navigate the sector safely out of the Covid-19 restrictions.
“Our industry wants to play a full part in helping kick-start the economy, supporting jobs and growth, and contributing to the exchequer.
“The BGC has warmly welcomed the government’s Gambling Review, which is a golden opportunity to build on the work we have already done on raising standards, promoting safer gambling and driving big changes across the industry.”